The brilliant coach does not feature in the docu-scene that says the most about Pep Guardiola’s mind. It is his assistant Mikel Arteta, who explains in a statement in a team meeting that Manchester City’s beautiful game sometimes requires minor filth. “If there is a changeover situation, you have to make the foul,” the Spaniard insists on midfielders Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Ilkay Gündogan in the Amazon documentary about City’s record-breaking championship season (2017/18).
Guardiola, 48, and Arteta, 37, were not always on the same line in tactical detail; Bayern Munich’s former coach had deliberately included the former Arsenal playmaker as an occasional naysayer on his staff in 2016. But what unites them, and ultimately also persuaded the decision-makers at Arsenal to hire Arteta on Friday as the current youngest Premier League coach, is the belief that dominant, entertaining football can only succeed with the utmost discipline and a degree of ruthlessness.
“You have to be relentless and stringent and live the culture of a club every day to develop a winning mentality,” he said when asked about the most important lesson from three-and-a-half years at City. Fittingly, the club’s website staged Arteta in the style of a Quentin Tarantino hero: after a decade marked by disorganization, all sorts of inadequacies and a certain foam rubberiness under Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery, the longing for a tough, clever dog with clear guidelines is greater than ever before around the Emirates Stadium.
Arteta, who was signed by the Gunners in the summer of 2011 immediately after the historic 2-8 defeat at Manchester United along with Per Mertesacker, had already been a promising candidate for the coaching post in 2018. Internally, the sympathetic but always highly professional Basque had many advocates, many players he had been remembered as a kind of secret coach, who during the break often addressed those uncomfortable things that Wenger no longer saw, or rather did not mention out of consideration for the feelings of his protégés.
Artetas Football: strong and tough
Acquaintances refer to him as a football madman who hung up tactical diagrams in his apartment in Manchester and watched games on television incessantly. However, the board did not want to entrust Wenger’s complex legacy to a newcomer to the profession. Emery was seen as a safer choice. “The time wasn’t ripe at the time,” Arteta said diplomatically.
In the meantime, however, it has become apparent that the uninspired accumulation of particular kickers in the midfield of the table urgently needs a more radical leadership approach. Experience is secondary, perhaps even hindering. Arsenal need a transgaming.orging leader who will first take everything apart and then reassemble everything in a concrete, non-negotiable plan. It is likely to take at least two years for Arsenal to play almost as they do Arteta’s ideal: combination-strong and tough.
Mesut Özil: “He is an important player”
The extent to which Mesut Özil fits into this programme remains to be seen. The new boss, when approached by the volatile technician, was fundamentally conciliatory (“he is an important player, if he clicks with him, he brings a lot to the team”), but announced that he would not tolerate any stragglers and deviants on the long trek back to the top. “It’s about living the right way and showing respect,” he said firmly: “Whoever cares about it is there. If you don’t, you’re out. I don’t want anyone to hide. I want people to take responsibility.” The latter has been one of the biggest problems in recent months. Captain Granit Xhaka had virtually put himself down with expressions of displeasure towards the audience, his successor Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completely lacking the sense of the collective. The former Dortmund striker is said to be thinking of leaving.
Arteta will take a close look at who is going his way. And he knows, of course, that the expected setbacks will automatically be pinned in by his lack of practice on the executive chair. By the time of his first home game (29 December against Chelsea) he is likely to achieve the partial goal of “changing the energy at the club”. The hope among the fans is indeed great that Arteta, with his clear speech and imposing charisma, will be the coach who will make Arsenal durable and competitive again. He at least brings the necessary consistency with him.